Book of Vile Darkness
Over the weekend I bought a supplemental manual for the Dungeons & Dragons game, called The Book of Vile Darkness. It caught my eye with the warning label, "Intended for Mature Audiences", though I don't think it's quite as extreme as some reviewers make it out to be. I partly agree with the reviewer at RPGnet:
"I don't think Wizards of the Coast wanted a mature book on evil, but wanted to present the idea that they were going to target the more mature side of the D&D consumer base... Book of Vile Darkness smacks more of cartoon villainy than an actual attempt at any sort of vile horror or evil. It appears, after all, the real evil of a campaign is to be blamed on the devil. What about the world's evil: like pedophiles, rapists and other degenerates? Why are they missing in a mature title about the nature of evil?...
"Book of Vile Darkness was undercut to make it more a marketing ploy than an actual book about evil that could scare the hell out of the reader. Is the book mature? Yes, and no. Mature enough that some of the concepts might send a few players tittering away at the mention of necrophilia and other topics, but then, the History Channel can cover those topics, as well as Discovery, without the delve into the juvenile mindset."
This is a healthy corrective to some of the more squeamish (or righteously indignant) reactions to the book. On the other hand, I wouldn't exactly call this material "cartoon villainy". It involves plenty of the "worldly evil" demanded by the reviewer: masochism, sadism, torture, disease, necrophilia. It may be a bit top-heavy on demonology, but that's what the game involves. Some of the spells are quite creative. I particularly like the one which allows an evil priest to transform into a disease -- actually become the disease itself -- and invade someone accordingly. Imagine what that would be like?
Anyway, this stuff will doubtfully find its way into the teen program at my library, but for mature role-players who like running dark campaigns, I recommend The Book of Vile Darkness without reservation. As the author Monte Cook puts it, the darker the evil, the more good will shine in the end.